Transition words and phrases help make a piece of writing flow better and connect one idea to the next. Because there's more than one way to connect ideas, there are many types of transitional phrases to show a variety of relationships. Some words will help you show the order in which events occur, while others explain a cause-and-effect relationship or allow you to present your ideas in a hierarchy of importance.
The most basic transition words are conjunctions that join words, phrases or clauses together. For example, words like "and," "but" and "or" can connect two sentences together:
I ran home, and I got there just in time.
I ran home, but I was still late.
As you can see in the example above, even simple conjunctions serve different purposes. The first sentence uses "and" as a transition word that connects the two occurrences equally. The second sentence uses "but," which introduces a contrast. Knowing what different transition words mean will help you choose the ones that best get your point across.
Other transition words are adverbs that describe the way an action is performed or how it relates to another idea. For example:
I went to the mall after he gave me my paycheck.
Bowling is a sport in which the player with the highest score wins. Conversely, the goal in golf is to get the lowest score.
Transition words can be used within a single sentence, between two different sentences or even between paragraphs. See how the writing below can be improved by adding transition words in each of these situations.
Original: Susan spoke, thinking of the right answer.
With Transitions: Susan spoke only after thinking of the right answer.
In this case, the transition words are used to connect two parts of a single sentence. This transition highlights chronology, or the order in which events occurred.
Original: Michael didn't have enough money to buy his mom flowers. He wasn't old enough to get a job. He felt sad on Mother's Day.
With transitions: Michael didn't have enough money to buy his mom flowers because he wasn't old enough to get a job. Nevertheless, he felt sad on Mother's Day.
The example above combines two sentences into one and helps a third sentence flow logically from the one before it. Adding these transition words shows how three disjointed sentences are related to each other, which otherwise might not be obvious to the reader.
When transitions are used between paragraphs, they are often in the form of a phrase or clause that refers to the previous information while introducing a new idea. These transitions often come at the beginning of new paragraphs and may use phrases like these:
There are several types of transitional words and phrases, and each category helps the reader to make certain connections. Some signal the building of an idea, while others help readers compare ideas or draw conclusions.
Here are some common transition words and examples of them in use.
These transitions point out alternatives or differences:
The boy liked birds, but he was afraid of cats. Similarly, he did not like lions and tigers. On the contrary, he liked animals that could fly, such as sparrows and falcons. Likewise, he thought bats were the most interesting mammals thanks to their wings.
These transitions help define time:
Before you go home, make sure you jot down your assignments so you can review your work during the evening. Later, you'll be glad you did when you can simultaneously study and eat dinner.
These transitions show the consequences of an action:
Since you're such a good student, you'll get into a good college. Therefore, you can get a job you like. As a result, you should be a happy person, because it's much easier to be happy when you do something you love and make good money.
These transitions add emphasis or introduce evidence:
Ellen loves ice cream. Truly, she'd be happy to eat sundaes every day—specifically, chocolate fudge brownie sundaes. To demonstrate her love of ice cream, Ellen is planning an ice cream social for all her friends.
These transitions add information or reinforce ideas:
Jonas promised to love, honor and also obey his wife. Moreover, he will do all the cooking and cleaning while he studies at home. Furthermore, he is grateful that his new wife earns enough money to let him do that.
These transitions show support:
I hate school; that is, I dislike it intensely. In other words, I want to drop out. To put it another way, school is the worst place in the world.
These transitions present conditions or intentions:
With what was possibly the greatest catch of all time, the Patriots won the Super Bowl. They almost always win big games. With this in mind, they could be called the greatest team of all time.
These transitions restate ideas:
All the facts have been presented and, as can be seen, the results are clear. Given these points, it's clearly time to consider some changes. In the long run, these recommendations will benefit our company.
These are just a few examples of the many transition words and phrases available in the English language to make your writing more cohesive. Bear in mind, that it is possible for some words to be placed in more than one category, depending on the way you use it or the ideas you're trying to connect. For a longer list of transition words, see Transitional Word Lists for Students. The more transition words you use in your writing, the smoother and more interesting it will be for your readers.